Useless. That’s how you feel. That’s how ninety-nine percent of people feel when a loved one is facing a medical emergency. I can take some small comfort knowing that I feel the same as everyone else does in this situation. It is an awfully small comfort. When I was driving home through the snow clogged streets of Milwaukee my cell phone died and along with it went my directions on how to get home. I was stuck somewhere around 27th and Layton when it finally hit me that the only reason I wanted something to do was because I didn’t want to deal with the pain. No one can be of much use in these situations yet this does not deter us from offering up our services.
Worry. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re trained to do. From a young age we’re told to check in with our parents if we go somewhere so they don’t worry. This teaches us that as parents we should ask the same thing of our children. The cycle perpetuates itself. Never mind the fact that they’ll worry anyways. This is why missing curfew can lead to harsh confrontations over trivial matters. When you’re a kid you don’t think like an adult unless you have to. That’s because thinking like an adult is about as much fun as behaving like an adult. I can count on one hand the amount of people who enjoy behaving like an adult and if they were really honest with themselves they’d likely realize that they still had reservations about the matter.
Routine. That’s what makes the events that impact your life stand out. Either the presence or the lack of routine makes the big events in our life pronounced in our minds. We can oftentimes recall when something happened in relation to how when it occurred during our routine. When something bad happens we break routine. Since you tend not to remember the things that are routine it is the mere fact that you are breaking routine in your life that can make something memorable in your mind. This is to say that you don’t have to lose a loved one every time you want to make a memory and thank god for that. Think back to your last vacation. You probably established a routine during your vacation because it’s what we’re taught to do from the time we were children. Schools use routines, chances are the place you work uses routines. Routines are used because they are the single most effective way to organize the things that matter most in our life: time.
Time. That’s the single most important thing in your life. Without time there isn’t much you can do just ask William Henry Harrison. Harrison has the distinction of being our shortest serving President. It wasn’t that he was bad at his job or anything. He was just stubborn in his feeling that he had to prove to people that he wasn’t a dumb man. He insisted on giving a long, two and a half to three hour speech out in the rain. He contracted pneumonia and died a month later. If you have time in abundance in your life then the limit on what you can do is non-existent. It’s hard for us to understand how volatile time is until someone else’s time is threatened. This is a sort of rendition on the ‘you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone’ and like most Joni Mitchell lyrics it’s applicability goes far beyond the subject being discussed here. Time is one of those things that creeps up on us. Think back to how many times you’ve said: ‘this isn’t how I thought it would be’ after reaching a certain age or milestone in your life.
Clarity. That’s what you get from life’s most trying moments. Life is remarkably tenuous and heinously unclear. It is often the best choice in life to simply do nothing. Social scientists do testing based on this control factor and often find that life is far more lucrative, our choices so much simpler, and our lives wind up being ultimately much more satisfying the less we get in our own way. Daniel Kahneman has a great book called Thinking Fast and Slow where he argues that your brain is controlled by two systems: system A and system B. One system is very good at a very particular type of quick, short term thinking while the other is good at longer, more stratified thinking. He found through about thirty years of research that knowing when to engage one system or the other made huge differences in people’s lives. Once we get the clarity that comes with resolution life becomes much simpler and easier to understand. Clarity – therefore – is the most valuable thing that comes out of life’s most tragic events.
Solace. That’s what we seek in the depths of our memories. Death is about us. First and foremost it is essential to understand that when we say we all handle grief differently what we’re really saying is that loss is personal. I’m going to have a much different reaction to losing my camera for instance than you are going to have to losing yours. This isn’t a real dollars argument either. It isn’t just the fact that my camera is expensive there’s also the memory card (what’s still on the camera that I haven’t processed), my settings, how the camera was configured and most importantly there is my own emotional history with my camera. The memories of what my camera and I did together will bother me much more than the financial loss of the camera. This is true in all things. We value memories more than we value item. When it comes to losing a person we value the memories more than we value the person we’ve lost as a whole. This explains why loss aversion plays such a key role in the end of things. Whether it’s a relationship, a point in your life (say high school or college for instance), or a life, we value the memories above all else. What we do in certain situations especially events like the end of a life is compound our memories together with our feelings towards that person. It is the combination of memories and feelings that makes death so difficult to deal with.